The Reagan Revolution: why it won't end after 1988

NOW, as [President] Reagan's presidency draws to a close, there is once again a collective sigh going up in the United States. On the Left there is once again relief. At last Reagan is going back to California. And there are no more like him. Even if we don't get a Democrat in 1988, at least we will get a sensible Republican, not radical, perhaps a bit back to the left. On the Right, there is despair. Many conservatives see the Reagan Revolution ending with Reagan, just as their opponents on the Left do. They are disillusioned, disheartened, once more fearing for the future of the country. Well, we shall see.

But in the meantime, perhaps we should look back at history for a moment, especially the last 25 years. Look at the rise of Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

What linked these three men together? What threw them high on the rocky beach of American politics? What gave them the political power to change America and so change the world?

Was their power due to their overwhelming personalities, to personal characteristics that will never be duplicated? Or was it due to something independent of any one person, to intellectual and political currents that produced first Goldwater, then Nixon, then Reagan?

Some have and will continue to argue that personalities explain the political phenomenon of Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan. But it is an unsatisfying explanation. The more you look at these people and what they did and what they represent, the more you are forced to conclude that much more is afoot here.

Barry Goldwater's smile and Richard Nixon's jabbing forefinger and Ronald Reagan's friendly wave of the arm had virtually nothing to do with their rise to political power in the United States, and so far no one has attributed the move toward capitalism in China, and the Soviet Union, and New Zealand, and in dozens of other countries throughout the world to the rise of these three personalities.

The more you look, the more you are forced to conclude that these three men did not cause the events in America during the last few decades. No, they were caused by them. The rising tide of a new capitalism, the powerful intellectual movement that is still rising, created the political momentum that swept these men to political prominence and power. Neither Goldwater nor Nixon nor Reagan caused or created the revolutionary movement that often carries their name, especially Reagan's. It was the other way around. They were part of the movement, they contributed mightily to the movement, but the movement gave them political life, not the reverse.

What this means is that when President Reagan retires, the set of policies known as the Reagan Revolution will not retire with him, no more than Barry Goldwater's policies disappeared when he was defeated in 1964, no more than President Nixon's policies vanished when he was driven from office in 1974. The fundamental changes in national policy still occurring in the United States and in virtually every country of the world are the inevitable result of intellectual changes that have already occurred. This political movement - the new capitalism - transcends personality, transcends political party.

Perhaps President Reagan's retirement in 1989 will lead to a lull or even a brief recession to the left once again. Perhaps not. The only thing that seems unshakably clear is that an intellectual revolution has occurred worldwide. Communism, socialism, and any other form of dictatorship statism have proven to be intellectually bankrupt. The only vibrant, thriving political philosophy with a sound intellectual base remaining is capitalism.

This appalls men and women of the Left. It delights men and women of the Right. But whether you are appalled or delighted, it may be important to know the nature of what you will be dealing with for the rest of this century and for much of the next century.

As long as public policy and political change flow from the well of reigning, dominant intellectual beliefs, then the tide of the new capitalism will continue to rise. Only when and if there is a seismic shift to the left in the intellectual world will we see a reversal of the political changes we are now witnessing.

Powerful political personalities can hasten those changes, or they can retard them, but they cannot stop them. The end of the Reagan presidency is near, but the end of the ideas that swept him to power is nowhere in sight.

Before the 20th century is over, we will likely see a new, stronger version of Reagan rise to take his place.

Excerpted from ``Revolution,'' by Martin Anderson, Copyright 1988 by Martin Anderson. To be published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc. Martin Anderson, senior fellow of the Hoover Institution, was assistant to the president for policy development, 1981-82.

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